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‘Lookback window’ extended for child abuse survivors to file lawsuits in Louisiana

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‘Lookback window’ extended for child abuse survivors to file lawsuits in Louisiana

Jun 11, 2024 | 6:01 am ET
By Julie O'Donoghue
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‘Lookback window’ extended for child abuse survivors to file lawsuits in Louisiana
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Child abuse survivors may have more time as adults to file lawsuits against their perpetrators under a new law. It’s a measure meant to strengthen efforts to hold organizations such as the Catholic Church accountable for decades of mistreatment.  

Louisiana’s original “lookback window” for civil suits over older child abuse allegations was set to expire Friday, but the Louisiana Legislature approved Senate Bill 246 to extend the period another three years, until June 14, 2027. Lawmakers approved the new deadline without any objections, though Gov. Jeff Landry did not sign the bill before it became law last week. 

The proposal is the latest attempt to get relief for adults who were abused as children but are no longer able to pursue criminal charges because the perpetrator is deceased or the applicable statute of limitations has lapsed. 

People who only come to terms with their mistreatment later in life often miss the opportunity to seek justice because the time to do so has run out. Legislators opted to give them a limited period of time, initially three years, to bring civil lawsuits. The extension, authored by Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, adds another three years. 

“I have every intention of filing lookback window cases all the way up to the new deadline of 2027,” said Kristi Schubert, a New Orleans attorney who represents adult child abuse survivors around the state. 

The Louisiana Supreme Court has waffled over that lookback window, however. 

In March, justices threw out the lookback period in a ruling that favored the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette and sparked public outrage.

A few weeks later, the justices announced they would reconsider their initial decision. It left hope that the lookback window could stay in place.

Compared with the justices, state legislators have been far more direct about where they stand on the matter of child sex abuse and civil litigation.

They overwhelmingly passed the first version of the lookback law in 2021. The lawmakers then circled back and clarified the statute in 2022 after the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette suggested in a lawsuit the legislators did not mean to open up civil lawsuits to every survivor, no matter how old the allegation. 

This year, in addition to passing the new version of the law, the Legislature also voted in favor of a resolution supporting the lookback window that was sent to every Louisiana Supreme Court justice. 

“Anybody against the legislation should accept defeat,” said Morgan Lamandre, head of Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response (STAR), an advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse. 

While legal dispute over the lookback window continues, older survivors of sexual abuse who could benefit from the law are dying, said Richard Windmann, an outspoken advocate for sexual abuse victims. Victims of Catholic Church sexual abuse, for example, have been waiting for years for compensation, he said.

“Finally, the victims and survivors, they have partners and allies in the Legislature and the judicial system. Finally,” he said.

A second piece of the legislation, House Bill 803 by Rep. Nick Muscarello, R-Hammond, needs to become law for the extended lookback period to go into effect immediately at the end of the week, when the original one ends. Otherwise, the lookback window might not pick back up again until Aug. 1, when most approved bills are scheduled to become law. 

The governor’s office declined to comment for this report.